Changes in belief systems have occurred since the beginning of time. No place on Earth has experienced more of these changes than Europe. Specifically, this paper will focus on the changing of belief systems from the ancient times, to the classical times, to the medieval times. The examples used to illustrate these changes will be Hesiod’s Theogony, Sophocles’ OedipusRex, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. These three pieces clearly show the changing theologies and belief systems relative to his times, and even show a glimpse into what many believe today. This paper will show the theological belief system from each of the three pieces as well as the similarities and differences between all of the pieces.
Hesiod’s Theogeny is an important piece of ancient literature because it tells the reader about the views of the creation of the world at that time. Gods and goddesses are used to explain the creation of the universe, and these gods and goddesses are raw and violent and full of human-like character flaws and personality quirks. Modern world order is coming into existence under Zeus’ rule in this poem. This poem is from the 8th century B.C.E. and ties together the more modern idea of muses telling stories with the older ideas of Egyptian and Babylonian gods. This piece of literature speaks of right and wrong, and also good and evil with the ‘evil’ being cast down to the Underworld (Damrosch & Pike, 2008, p. 55), much like what happens in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In Hesiod’s time, the gods were all-important and the society was secondary.
Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is a tragic tale of a man who is cast away at birth, and the prophecy is that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Determined to not live out this tale, he flees his town, killing a man on the way and marrying the queen of the new town. He eventually learns his true identity and is devastated. In this tale, Sophocles marries the relationship between the all-powerful gods and the new devotion to the democracy of the city. The reader can see the difference between this and the earlier work of Hesiod where the gods were everything: in Sophocles’ tale the gods and society have to balance with one another. Sophocles focuses on civilization and its limits, the madness, death, nature, and the gods, and shows the struggles the reader has with those. The gods in Sophocles’ stories are even more vicious and violent than they were in Hesiod’s tale, and Oedipus is used as an illustration of the new human form, a tie between gods and animals, striving for god-like perfection but falling short (Damrosch & Pike, 2008, p. 502).
In Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the reader can see Dante’s obsession with trying to make sense of Christianity. He believed he got messages sent to him from god (Christ) in the form of lessons for how he was to live his life (Damrosch & Pike, 2008, p. 1260). He focuses mainly on God’s plan for the world, from creation through the Last Judgment. Time does not exist for the divine in Dante’s world. Human life is transient, the afterlife is eternity. Dante is fascinated by the afterlife, and believes that much of the afterlife is a puzzle to be deciphered much like our time on earth is. He uses three guides to take him through the three segments of the afterlife, Hell and Purgatory, Paradise, and his union with the godhead. Basically our time on Earth is to be spent figuring out which part of the afterlife we will end up in. If we sin, we must repent and work to be a part of Paradise. This fits in with the Christian theology of good and evil. Also since Christians of this time all believed in original sin, then they must work their entire lives to be good enough to get to Paradise. Dante’s story takes the reader through his interactions with the ‘guides’ he has to teach him about each of the three segments of the afterlife, and this is similar to the ‘muses’ used by Hesiod to explain how the gods and goddesses created the Earth.